Well, that was as brutal a loss as they come — even for Nets fans.
The Nets led the Sixers for the better part of the second half, responding to adversity and playing through the guards — which is a recipe for success for Brooklyn.
But with just under three minutes remaining, the Sixers took the lead, which appeared to demoralize the Nets. While Brooklyn battled back to retake the lead, the Sixers defense held the Nets in check for the majority of the game’s final six minutes. In a game that the Nets needed to win, they failed to rise to the occasion in front of an energic Barclays Center crowd.
After back-to-back double-digit losses, the Nets found themselves in a must-win situation Saturday afternoon in Brooklyn. Nothing was working for the Nets — who entered the afternoon trailing Philly 2-1 in the series.
The Nets failed to capitalize in Thursday night’s loss, where Philly played without Joel Embiid — who is dealing with left knee soreness. Unfortunately for Brooklyn, Embiid suited up today. He would face an even easier task of attacking the Nets’ bigs, as Ed Davis was out with an ankle sprain.
Something had to change.
And with a new starting lineup — Caris LeVert and Jared Dudley replacing DeMarre Carroll and Rodions Kurucs — head coach Kenny Atkinson adapted.
In the first quarter, the Nets looked like the team who defeated the Sixers just one week ago.
The new starting five lifted Brooklyn’s energy to a whole new level. Joe Harris — who has struggled the past two games offensively — was all over the court, grabbing five boards. LeVert’s addition to the starting lineup allowed him to get on the board early and often — as he scored 11 points in the opening quarter. As a team, the Nets scored eight second-chance points in the quarter, helping Brooklyn to a 33-24 lead.
Philly came back in the second quarter to take the lead, but Brooklyn stormed back in force. A late run gave the Nets a six-point lead — 63-57 — at the end of the half.
Philly couldn’t stop LeVert — who finished the half with 16 points. Jarrett Allen looked and played like a different player than in the previous three games. He ended the half with 15 points.
The Nets helped their cause at the free throw line — a place they thrived at in Game 1. Brooklyn shot 13-14 from the stripe, compensating for their struggles from beyond the arc — the Nets shot 6-19 from deep.
The Nets forced Philly into ten turnovers in the first half, while they turned the ball over just four times. Both teams struggled to take care of the ball in the regular season, so the Nets would need to keep the pressure up in the second half.
The Nets couldn’t come out flat in the third quarter, something they did each of the last two games. And it would all start at the defensive end of the ball.
The Sixers shot over fifty percent from the field in the first half, so Brooklyn would need to keep Philly from going on a crowd-silencing run. This would be the most important quarter for the Nets this season.
After Embiid fouled Allen with 7:42 left in the third, the all-out brawl — that has been brewing since Game 1 — finally happened.
Dudley shoved Embiid, thinking he flagrantly fouled Allen, which led to Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler retaliating in full force. Dudley and Butler — deemed “escalators” of the brawl — got ejected from the game. Butler’s absence was a massive win for the Nets, who struggled to defend him all series long. Embiid received a technical foul for his role in the fight.
With D’Angelo Russell struggling to find his shot, LeVert continued his dominance in the third quarter — scoring eight points. In addition to getting to the rim at will, LeVert hit open threes and even put James Ennis on skates.
Spencer Dinwiddie’s third quarter performance was crucial for Brooklyn keeping their six-point lead. He had ten points in the quarter and would need to keep it up if the Nets hoped to win.
Up by six entering the fourth quarter, the Nets led Philly by six points.
It was Brooklyn’s game to lose.
With under five minutes to go, the Sixers trimmed the Nets’ lead to three points. The offense ran through Embiid, and Allen had the impossible task of defending the All-Star.
Allen himself had his best offensive game of the series, scoring 21 points. But Embiid outshined the second-year center — putting up 31 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists, and six blocks.
Yeah, Embiid is that good.
An Embiid basket gave Philly the lead with 2:54 remaining in the fourth, but Dinwiddie answered the call with a basket of his own on the next possession.
Tobias Harris scored, but — thanks to Jarrett Allen — Russell drained a second-chance three to give the Nets a two-point lead with 2:20 left in the game.
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) April 20, 2019
But J.J. Reddick had other ideas. His three silenced the Barclays Center crowd, giving the Sixers a one-point lead.
Joe Harris responded with a layup with 25 seconds left.
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) April 20, 2019
The Nets needed a stop, just one defensive stand.
After Brooklyn’s defenders converged on Embiid, the ball got kicked to the corner for none other than . . . Mike Scott.
Scott nailed the three with 19.7 seconds remaining in the game. It was up to the Nets to answer.
Brooklyn got the ball down low to Allen, but the Sixers — mainly Ben Simmons — converged upon him and stripped Allen of the ball.
On the other, Tobias Harris sank both free throws to give Philly a four-point lead with 4.8 seconds left. Those free throws iced the game, as the Sixers went on to win Game 4 112-108.
The Sixers now lead the series 3-1 and will go back home for Game 5, which is on Tuesday night.
The Nets face elimination, but if one thing is for certain, this Nets team plays their best basketball when their backs are against the wall.
D’Angelo Russell Point Guard
21 PTS, 6-19 FG, 4-9 3PT, 5-5 FT, 7 REB, 6 AST, 2 STL, 1 BLK, 3 TO, 36 MIN
After shooting just 3-12 from the field in the first half, D’Angelo Russell couldn’t get it going.
He struggled from the field in the third quarter as well but was helped by the outstanding play of Caris LeVert — who started alongside Russell.
Russell, despite hitting a clutch go-ahead three, never quite found his stroke.
The Nets will need Russell’s All-Star self on Tuesday night, as Brooklyn faces elimination.
Caris LeVert Shooting Guard
25 PTS, 9-18 FG, 3-8 3PT, 4-9 FT, 5 REB, 6 AST, 1 STL, 3 TO, 42 MIN
After a 26-point Game 3 performance, Caris LeVert earned himself a spot in the starting five.
Once again, LeVert was nothing short of spectacular.
His 16 points in the first half gave Brooklyn the edge on Philly entering the second half.
LeVert’s excellent play continued in the second half, though he didn’t get the same volume of looks in the fourth quarter — which no doubt hurt Brooklyn’s chances.
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) April 20, 2019
LeVert looks like his pre-injury self, as he led Brooklyn in points scored and minutes played today.
His only negative today was his struggles from the free throw line. Those points would have gone a long way for the Nets. But then again, the Sixers would have man-handled the Nets without LeVert.
Jarrett Allen Center
21 PTS, 7-11 FG, 7-7 FT, 8 REB, 4 AST, 2 STL, 2 TO, 31 MIN
Jarrett Allen took advantage of Embiid’s limited role and made up for Ed Davis’ absence.
Allen played above the rim, finishing lobs from LeVert and Dinwiddie. Allen scored his playoff-high in points, but failed to contain the potent Joel Embiid.
Embiid toyed with Allen, especially in crunch time. Allen will need to strengthen-up if he hopes to contend with Embiid-caliber big men.
While Allen’s offense was “A+” worthy, his defense was “D+” worthy.
Spencer Dinwiddie Point Guard
18 PTS, 7-12 FG, 3-6 3PT, 1-2 FT, 4 REB, 1 STL, 2 TO, 27 MIN
Spencer Dinwiddie was excellent today, especially in the second half.
Dinwiddie, who came off the bench without LeVert, led Brooklyn’s second unit.
His threes and acrobatic layups seemed always to come when the Nets needed them most.
Dinwiddie needed to play more than 27 minutes tonights, as he found his shot throughout the entire game.
To improve for Game 5, Dinwiddie should look to pass as opposed to driving a kicking the ball to closely defended Nets.
Joe Harris Shooting Guard
10 PTS, 4-14 FG, 0-6 3PT, 2-2 FT, 6 REB, 2 STL, 1 TO, 35 MIN
Joe Harris is not himself right now, especially from deep.
In the regular season, Harris led the NBA in 3-Point Field Goal percentage at 47.3 percent. In Game 4, Harris impacted the game in other ways.
Harris defended J.J. Reddick well and made his presence felt on the glass — grabbing six rebounds.
But Harris’s impact still fell way short of his regular season self, as he failed to make a single three.
The Nets are a much better team when Harris is making threes and hopefully will get the shooter back on track by Game 5.
Jared Dudley Small Forward
8 PTS, 3-4 FG, 2-3 3PT, 5 AST, 1 STL, 1 BLK, 1 TO, 19 MIN
In the poetic words of WFAN’s midday host Evan Roberts:
JARED FREAKIN’ DUDLEY.
The Nets didn’t win, but Dudley — ejected for his leading role in the brawl — played excellent once again.
Head coach Kenny Atkinson inserted him into the starting lineup, and it paid off big time.